The Most Underwhelming Comeback Attempts in Sports
It's understandable. When you commit your life to something—anything—it's hard to let go.
When athletes retire, some of them experience a loss of purpose, a loss of identity. They don't know what they're supposed to do next because they've dedicated their lives to the sole purpose of achieving athletic immortality. And when their time is up, they find themselves unable to say goodbye—so to make life easier, they just come back.
Unfortunately, those decisions to un-retire tend to backfire.
Such is the case with these 20 athletes.
20. Bobby Hull
When he was good, Bobby Hull was good.
In both the NHL and the World Hockey Association, he was a star. He led the NHL in scoring for seven seasons in the 1960s, never playing in fewer than 60 games in that decade. Even at the age of 37 in the 1975-76 season, he played a career-high 80 games, finishing with 53 goals and 70 assists for 123 points with the WHA's Winnipeg Jets.
But when he turned 40, things started to go south. With the Jets in 1978-79, he played in just four games and was going to retire at the end of that year. But he made the ill-advised decision to return to the Jets in the NHL in 1979-80, playing in just 27 total games and scoring just six goals with 11 assists. Eighteen games into his season, he was traded from the Jets to the Whalers, and after that horrible season concluded, he called it quits for good.
19. Rickey Henderson
Rickey Henderson's legacy in baseball lore is secure.
He holds the record for the most stolen bases in a season as well as the all-time stolen bases record. He won an MVP and two World Series. He finished his career with a .279 batting average.
But maybe Henderson just didn't know when to call it quits.
From 2000-2003—at the ages of 41-44—Henderson played part time for five different teams, including the Mets, the Mariners, the Padres, the Red Sox and the Dodgers. Never once during that period did he hit above .238.
Still, even after being elected to the Hall of Fame, Henderson will barely acknowledge the possibility of retirement. After making it to Cooperstown, he could still be heard insisting that he wanted to come back and play.
18. Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders was one of the best, most celebrated players in the NFL.
He was around when the Dallas Cowboys were still good. He possessed all of the qualities of the best NFL players: He was versatile, he worked hard, he always strove to be better.
That's how he ended up back on the field even after football was supposed to be officially over for him.
Sanders retired at the conclusion of the 2000 season at the age of 33, but four years later, he was right back on the gridiron, signing a one-year deal with the Ravens. He would play for two more years, both with Baltimore, but he would start only six games combined, registering just seven total tackles in 2004 and 27 in 2005.
Props to him for improving during his 13th and final season in the league, but when the time has come, the time has come.
17. Rasheed Wallace
When Rasheed Wallace attempted to rejuvenate his career by signing with the Boston Celtics in 2009-10, it didn't go so well. He spent most of the year way overweight and was barely a factor at all until the postseason rolled around.
This year, with the Knicks, 'Sheed hasn't been too much of a factor, either. But given his track record, there still could be time.
After the end of the 2009-10 season, Wallace took a couple of years off from the NBA grind before signing with New York prior to the 2012-13 season. Many doubted the Knicks' apparent strategy of relying on way-over-the-hill veterans, and so far, it's working—but with little help from Wallace.
'Sheed has played in 20 games in 2012-13 but has started zero and has spent much of the season dealing with a foot injury that has kept him out of commission for chunks of time. When he has been able to get on the court, he's shooting a career-second-worst .388 from the field for just 7.2 points per game.
16. Lance Armstrong
It seems downright laughable right now that Lance Armstrong ever thought he could make a comeback in cycling, given what we know—but in 2008-09, there was still hope for him.
Armstrong has always been polarizing, but most were in awe of his abilities after he won those seven Tour de France titles. So when he announced in late 2008 that he wanted to come out of retirement in the hopes of racing in the 2009 Tour de France, many were eager to see how he'd fare.
He didn't win in '09, but his performance was impressive. In 2010? Not so much.
That summer, Armstrong would race in his final Tour, and it was a good thing. Several crashes landed him far out of contention for the crown, and in a very un-Armstrong-like turn of events, he would finish in 23rd place.
As for those current rumors that he's trying to make a comeback? Those are even more laughable.
15. Bo Jackson
Poor Bo Jackson. It wasn't his fault that he got hurt. But apparently, that's what happens when you try to play professional football and baseball at the same time.
Before a football-related injury robbed him of the entire 1992 season, Jackson was pretty special on the baseball field. In six seasons with the Royals and the White Sox, he registered 327 RBIs and 81 stolen bases. He was renowned for his speed, which all but disappeared after he sustained a hip injury during the 1991 playoffs, which kept him out of commission for 1992.
When Jackson returned for the 1993 season with the White Sox, he hit .232 with just 45 RBIs and zero stolen bases. The next season, with the California Angels, he'd improve on that—he stole one base!—but after that, he'd call it a career.
14. Curt Schilling (as a Closer)
There's no doubt that without Curt Schilling, the Boston Red Sox may never have defeated the Curse of the Bambino. As a starting pitcher, he was stellar.
But as he helped teach us, a stellar starter does not a good closer make—even if you're a Cy Young contender.
After leading Boston to an improbable World Series victory in 2004, Schilling had surgery on an ankle that famously led to the Bloody Sock legend during the postseason. Because of that injury, he started '05 on the DL, and when he came back, Boston performed an experiment: It deemed him the new closer.
It didn't go so well, and Schilling found closing to be much harder than it seemed. He told The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo:
I'm just trying to get people out. You've got to make pitches. I'm compounding mistakes by making more mistakes. I can't do that.
Fortunately, his time in the bullpen didn't last long. He reentered the rotation but didn't fare much better there, finishing that forgettable season with a 5.69 ERA, his worst mark since 1989.
13. Sugar Ray Leonard
Sugar Ray Leonard was one of the best during his prime. In 40 career fights, he registered 36 wins, 25 of which came by KO.
Early in his career, he made waves when he earned the WBC Welterweight title in an epic match against Wilfred Benitez in 1979, and ever since, he was considered a legend—but after suffering a detached retina during a match in 1982, he announced his retirement.
But not for long. He made his return to the ring in 1983 for a few more fights, and after earning a controversial split-decision win over Marvin Hagler in 1986, he reentered retirement.
… But not for long.
Leonard would flip-flop in and out of retirement for the next few years, but he made his final comeback—and the one he really shouldn't have made—in 1997 at the age of 40 against Hector Camacho. It was then that Leonard suffered the only knockout loss of his career, and it was then that he probably wished he had never dared come out of retirement in the first place.
12. Manny Ramirez
Once the steroid scandals start, you should probably just bow out gracefully—especially if you're as high profile a player as Manny Ramirez.
It really was a shame. Ramirez is heralded as one of the best right-handed hitters of his generation, hitting .313 through 2009 with an average of 23 homers and 105 RBI per season. After disaster struck in 2009, though, he was never the same.
That's when he was suspended 50 games for taking a women's fertility drug. But that's not all. Another steroid scandal came his way in 2011, and this time—instead of serving a 100-game suspension—he decided to just retire.
Ramirez was reinstated by MLB at the end of 2011, and he was free to sign with another team as long as he served a 50-game suspension if and when he returned to baseball. He signed with Oakland in February 2012,and he was eligible to return to the game on May 30, 2012, post-suspension.
Unfortunately, he never made it back to the big club. He played in 17 games for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats before requesting his release at the end of June, never to be heard from again. Good call, Billy Beane.
11. Mark Spitz
What will it be like if Michael Phelps tries to make a comeback at age 41?
Mark Spitz may have given us a glimpse.
Before Michael Phelps, this Olympic swimming sensation was the Michael Phelps of his day. He won seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics and set world records in every event in which he swam. Only one person has won more medals at a single Olympics: Phelps himself.
Spitz retired at the age of 22, but nearly 20 years later, he emerged in order to attempt to earn a place among the U.S. national team at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
It didn't go so well. Spitz didn't have the speed to make the team, never mind swim in the Games, and even he knew it. As he told the Newsday's Tim Layden, "Somewhere between the ages of 34 … and 39, I lost what everybody obviously loses sometime: quickness."
10. Roger Clemens
Until very recently, we couldn't rule out the possibility of a Roger Clemens comeback. That's because he seems to keep going and going, no matter how old he gets.
Even as recently as last season, he was still pitching in the Atlantic League with the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Of course, the Major League team to lure Clemens out of retirement back in 2007 was the Yankees. He signed a one-year, $28 million contract to pitch for New York for a bit more than half a season, and while Clemens may have been a perennial All Star for most of his career, that was sadly not the case at the age of 44.
In 2007, Clemens went 6-6 in 17 starts for the Yankees and finished with a 4.18 ERA, his worst mark since 1995, when he was with the Red Sox. In his one postseason start against Cleveland in the ALDS, he allowed three earned runs in 2.1 innings of work, earning himself a whopping 11.57 postseason ERA.
Speaking of the Red Sox, they went on to win the World Series that year, to add insult to injury.
9. Herschel Walker
Herschel Walker was open to anything, and in most sports-related ventures, he succeeded, whether it was in college football, in the U.S. Football League or the NFL.
In MMA? Not too bad.
Walker was a lot of things at his prime. He was a three-time consensus All American, a Heisman Trophy winner, a Pro Bowler, a running back who finished nine of his 12 professional seasons with over 1,000 yards.
At the age of 48, he tried to give mixed martial arts a try. Hilarious as it may have been to see, he finished his career with an undefeated record. He only fought twice, but undefeated is undefeated.
But even as he prepared for a different type of fight than he was used to, Walker still harped on the idea that he could make an NFL comeback if he wanted to.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle's Tom Fitzgerald, Walker claimed he could run a 40 in 4.39 at the age of 47.
"There's no doubt in my mind that I could help a team right now," he added, via Fitzgerald.
8. Jim Brown
He didn't quite get there, but the fact that Jim Brown was even entertaining a comeback is noteworthy.
Being the best was important to Brown, and he became the best during the course of his nine-year career in Cleveland. In 1963, he set the Browns' franchise record with 1,863 rushing yards, a record that still stands.
He also set the record for career rushing yards with 12,312, but when it looked like that one was going to be shattered by Franco Harris, he considered coming out of retirement, producing this.
Harris didn't even end up breaking the record, so Brown could rest easy for a few years until the late, great Walter Payton did.
7. Jose Canseco
Jose Canseco is many things—hilarious Twitter follow and general embarrassment to baseball among them.
Add comeback kid to the list. Or at least, he'd like it if you did.
Canseco is most notorious for writing two books about the rampant use of steroids in baseball, and he counts himself among the abusers. That, in itself, makes it rather unlikely that any major league team will ever add him to its roster again.
But you have to give him props for trying.
After the film version of Moneyball came out, Canseco began a Twitter campaign to get another shot at the Show. But once his attempt to join the Quintana Roo Tigers of the Mexican league fell short because of—you guessed it—steroids, his comeback looks more and more like an exercise in humiliation than a realistic attempt.
6. Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson's entire career now exists under the scrutiny saved for the worst of the worst PED abusers.
And yet, he attempted to make a comeback after his steroid-related suspension ended! Talk about a desperate need to prove you can do it without the juice ... especially when you can't do it without the juice.
At the 1988 Olympic Games, Johnson won the gold medal in the 100-meter, setting a world record in the event. Three days later, he tested positive for a banned substance and was disqualified.
Once his suspension ended, he attempted a comeback, but at the 1991 Worlds, he finished last in the 100-meter semifinals and thus didn't get a chance to compete in the final. Bummer.
And then: He failed another drug test in 1993 and was banned for life by the International Association of Athletics Federations! Who attempts to make a comeback from a steroid suspension and uses steroids to do so?
5. JaMarcus Russell
It's one thing when one of the best ever attempts to make a comeback once he's past his prime.
It's another when the guy making a comeback never had a "prime" to begin with.
There aren't a lot of people who are eager to see what JaMarcus Russell can do on the football field. That's because in three years with the Oakland Raiders, he went 7-18.
Nevertheless, according to Yahoo! Sports' Kristian Dyer, Russell has trimmed his weight "down" to 308 pounds and is gearing up to lose more in order to aid his alleged comeback.
As Aziz Ansari would say, "Good luck with that."
4. Bjorn Borg
Tennis has seen plenty of stars hang on for too long, and it has seen plenty of stars who have attempted comebacks in the twilight of their careers.
Bjorn Borg's disastrous comeback attempt certainly fits into that mold.
Borg is always discussed as some kind of strange, unlikely phenomenon, and not just because of that infamous hair. He won five Wimbledon titles and six French Open titles, and nobody was really quite sure how he did it.
Which makes his failed comeback even funnier.
In the '90s, Borg emerged from retirement only to see his mystique completely disappear. He failed to win even one match before fading back into the world of exhibition tennis.
3. Bob Cousy
Bob Cousy is a legend—not only in Boston, but everywhere.
However, as he helped to prove, even legends can lose their luster.
From 1950-63, Cousy was the Celtics' floor general and established himself as one of the best ever. He led the Celtics to six NBA titles, and along the way, he made 13 appearances on the All-Star squad and he was named league MVP once before entering the Hall of Fame in 1971 and subsequently having his No. 14 retired by Boston.
But before having his jersey retired, Cousy grew tired of retirement, so he ventured back into the league in 1969-70 as the head coach of the Cincinnati Royals.
When he attempted to transition from a coach into a player during his time with the Royals, it didn't go so well. In 34 minutes played in seven games, he went 1-for-3 for a mere five points. His coaching tenure with the Royals didn't go much better: They missed the playoffs in each of the three seasons he was at the helm.
2. Brett Favre
Because of Brett Favre, we can never take athletes at their word when they say they're going to retire. Right now, for instance, there's still a part of me that thinks we're going to see Ray Lewis suiting up next year.
And it's because of Brett Favre.
The legendary quarterback announced and then retracted his retirement about 45 times before finally calling it quits, but the worst retractions came in 2009, when he said things like his retirement was "the real deal" and he'd never play in an NFL game again.
And yet, there he was on the Vikings' roster for a couple more years.
2010, however, is one he'd like to have back. He led Minnesota to a 5-8 record, and after it was clear the team was heading nowhere, he missed some time at the end of the season due to injury and officially walked away.
Until next time he returns.
1. Michael Jordan
If Bob Cousy and Michael Jordan—two of the best to ever play the game—can't make successful comebacks in their old age, everyone else should stop trying. It can't be done.
A couple of times, Jordan flirted with retirement, and the first time he returned to the game, he did so with rousing success. He said goodbye for the first time in 1993 following his father's murder but returned late in the 1994-95 season.
Because he led the Bulls to three more championships after his first comeback, it is reasonable that he thought his next comeback would hold similar magic.
But it didn't. Jordan bade farewell to the league at the end of the 1997-98 season, and he should have kept it that way. He returned in 2001-02 in an attempt to revive the woeful Washington Wizards, but even he couldn't do it. Those two years, he was plagued by injuries despite managing to average over 20 points per game, and Washington missed the playoffs.
If MJ can't make a comeback, no aging superstar can.
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